dress-shirt-2-tn

Essentials: The Great White Dress Shirt

white-dress-shirt-heroIf, for some reason, you only need one dress shirt in your closet, let it be the white dress shirt. It’s the most versatile shirt you will ever own, appropriate for business, dress or casual. The right white dress shirt looks impeccable under a suit, fantastic under a sweater or handsome as hell with just a pair of jeans. Some would even argue that the right dress shirt could even be worn with a dinner jacket. With the exception of two gingham shirts, I’m not a real pattern or stripe kind of guy when it comes to shirts. And of all my dress shirts, about 85% of them are plain white.

In terms of acquiring a great white dress shirt, men often make the mistake of thinking that “a white shirt is a white shirt,” but there are several options to consider. First consideration is the fabric, which is very simple: cotton. And none of those “no-iron”/”wrinkle-free” shirts, for which the cotton is treated with formaldehyde, producing an itchy, non-breathing, chemically-altered version of cotton. There is an aggressive epidemic among shirt makers to push these bastardized “no-iron” cotton dress shirts, even ye olde Brooks Brothers. Ignore them and demand 100% regular cotton only.

Weave

The next thing to consider is the weave of the cotton. When I was a schoolboy, we wore oxford shirts, made with a coarse, durable weave of heavy cotton. Oxford is technically casual and inappropriate for dress or business. But a casual, un-ironed, oxford button-down is the ultimate weekend shirt. My personal go-to weaves for dress shirts are either poplin or pinpoint oxford. Poplin is a tightly-woven plain weave with a very fine hand. Though it’s susceptible to wrinkling, a fresh white poplin dress shirt is like sliding into crisp bed sheets. It’s the choice for Fortune 500 types. Pinpoint oxford is almost a cross between the two aforementioned weaves – dressier than oxford but not as fancy as poplin – and a great option for many men.

shirt-weave

Collar

The right collar is another important consideration. My personal choice is the semi-spread collar, which is a cross between the standard point collar and the spread collar. One could belabor that standard point collars should be worn by round-faced men and spread collars are for men with more angular faces. Knock yourself out. The semi-spread strikes the perfect, bullet-proof balance that goes with everything on anyone. However popular, the button-down collar is technically for casual only, though J.F.K.’s years at Choate and Princeton influenced his button-down preference all the way into the White House, which, in turn, influenced many American men. Unless your name is Thom Browne, Nick Wooster, Jack Kennedy, or any other public notable whose signature look is the button-down collar, best keep the button-down out of the boardroom, the newsroom, the courtroom and the Four Seasons dining room. (But you can definitely get away with it in the Champagne Room.)

shirt-collars

Cuffs

The two most common cuffs are barrel cuffs (a.k.a. “button cuffs”) and French cuffs. My preference is the latter. Cufflinks are one of the few forms of man bling I can tolerate, and I proudly own several pairs passed down from my grandfather. And instead of making a weird statement with a “conversation” tie, a cufflink is a great vehicle for subtle and elegant self-expression. A half an inch of French cuff also happens to look fantastic peeking out of the sleeve of a jacket. But they’re not for everyone. In a piece I wrote about the streamlined dress code of busy and powerful men, I posited that French cuffs might be too fussy for many over-scheduled men of importance. Barrel cuffs are easy, basic and perfectly acceptable, especially for busy men who like to roll up their sleeves at work.

cuffs

Fit

Finally, one must consider fit. For those possessing a slim, moderate or athletic build, the time is nigh to evolve out of the boxy, blousy “classic” fit that billows over the belt like an open parachute. The way to go is with a shirt that fits your form while still enabling movement. Thankfully, most respectable shirt makers offer slim or trim fit shirts, with some going even further with extra slim offerings. For the larger man, the classic fit should do it. Fortunately, we now have more affordable custom options available for the perfect-fitting shirt. And there is also the refined finishing touch of tailoring, courtesy of your trusted local.

fit

In conclusion…

If I had to strip my wardrobe down to, say, five indispensable essentials, my white dress shirts would definitely make the list, right along with my navy suit, my wingtips, my black knit tie and my Levi’s 501s. And if fabric dye were eradicated from the planet tomorrow, I’d be perfectly content. All hail the great white dress shirt.

dress-shirt-2

13 thoughts on “Essentials: The Great White Dress Shirt”

  1. This is a great article, brother, but you don’t indicate “where” I can find these shirts. All, and I mean ALL, of the idiot websites “say” they sell “100% FULL NORMAL COTTON” but… they don’t. they all say something to the effect of wrinkle free, which as you mention, is the kiss of death. So… where do I find a really good, full woven, 100% heavy grade cotton dress shirt that needs to be ironed, laundered every time it’s used? One would also assume that one can’t buy these shirts for 30 bucks because no one seems to make them anymore.

    Any suggestions?

    Also, I need big and tall, size 22 neck, 39/40 length.

    1. Hey, Ken. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment! Rochester Big & Tall has some in Egyptian cotton (going to a 38/39 sleeve, though). A large size can be a roll of the dice in fit. You might benefit from a custom option. I know I talk about them a lot, but they do a great job… Indochino does great shirts. If you’re going for the great white, I’d go for their “Ultimate Utility Shirt” (http://www.indochino.com/product/The-Ultimate-Utility-Shirt). It’s $79, which is damn good for custom. Just to make sure they get the fit right, I’d buy one for your first purchase and take advantage of their Perfect Fit Promise. Once you’re confident they have your measurement profile down perfectly, you can just punch up subsequent orders with your preferred customizations (collar, cuff, pocket, monogram, etc.) from their rather nice shirt collection, knowing that you’ll get a fantastic cotton shirt that fits you perfectly. I also think Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers makes shirts in larger sizes. I hope that helps.

  2. KEN! I own a operate ThereAreGiants.com – the tall men’s online life and style magazine – like GQ for GIANTS…. I wanted to point your attention to the “I Have Bespoken” section on our site that specifically reviews clothing companies for the tall and big. This column has a few great shit companies on them already (my personal favorite being BLANK LABEL) that may have exactly what you’re looking for. I’d encourage you to check them out and also a company called ENZO that has locations in Philly, DC, and NYC – they are made to measure – meaning you actually go into the location to be fit for something vs. online do-it-yourself. Best of luck to you and don’t forget to follow us on the FB! :-D EM

  3. Where can I find these shirts around Largo, FL? Is this the same brand as found in Wal-Mart? I have been looking for a specific one in XL but can’t find it at any store, I guess they are phasing them out in the specific color/style I need for my fiancee for our wedding.

  4. Hey George,

    This is one of my favorite websites. Great layout, very helpful advice, nice variety, and occasional pics of Smokey the dog. Anyway, a couple of requests for future subjects of “Essentials” (and please forgive me if I overlooked these in the archives).

    First, v-neck undershirts: I haven’t had much luck finding good quality, reasonably priced white v-necks that are deep enough to remain unseen when wearing a suit without a tie. (Personally, I don’t like going without undershirts, and they help avoid sweat marks). Any suggestions would be great.

    Secondly, tie widths: I know fashion sometimes is like a pendulum…I remember my Dad’s fat ties in the seventies, skinny ties in the 80’s, slightly wider ones in the 90’s…and now (at least at J Crew), we are back to skinny. Anyway, in order to minimize having to chase this trend, what widths are “classic” that you would recommend for someone on a budget?

    Many thanks,

    Ricardo

  5. Great write up George. You’ve articulated my style to the letter. Now where can I buy this shirt for a reasonable price online. I’m a normal sized guy: 6’1, 200 lbs, trim athletic build, 16 neck, 34 sleeve. Help a brother out! Thank you!

  6. Hey George. You have a very nice blog with excellent design.

    And I really like your podcasts. I listen to them while exercising. I like the introductory music of them very much. Reminds me of the 1990’s radio.

    I have a question on dress shirts and I’ll be very thankful if you could please reply.

    What is the proper length of the sleeve of a button up dress shirt? All style bloggers say that when the cuff is buttoned, it should just hit the wrist bone. But if you have extra long sleeves and you use a tight button on the cuffs, still you can achieve that. Though the sleeve will start to billow on the arms.

    So what according to you is the correct sleeve length when the cuff is unbuttoned?

    1. Hi, Farhan. Thank you for reading and commenting! The sleeve length is really one of personal preference. I personally like my wrists covered. If you look at shots of me on the site, you can see what I mean. A little lower than the wrist bone. But when I raise or bend my arm, the shirt and jacket sleeves naturally rise up exposing my wrist (and my watch). I certainly wouldn’t suggest going any higher than the wrist bone, though.

      1. Thanks George. I see your point and yes I too prefer to cover my wrists just like you.

        But I originally asked where should the cuff sit when you unbutton it? Where does your cuff sit on the hand when you unbutton it?

        There are some who suggest it should cover one third of the hand. Do you agree?

Talk to me...